Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
The Grand Junction Tigers showed the Durango High School boys basketball team what an inbounds pass looked like Saturday.
The Demons took note.
DHS turned the ball over on three consecutive inbounds attempts in the final minute of play, and Grand Junction scored a layup on a demonstrative inbounds pass of its own to leapfrog the Demons 35-34 with less than 2 seconds to play for their first and final lead of the game.
The end result snatched away Durango’s hopes of a Southwestern League championship in front of a silent home crowd at DHS.
“That’s about the worst it gets, in any sport,” DHS head coach Alan Batiste said.
With about 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining, Nick Hamlin’s layup-and-one stymied the Tigers’ fourth-quarter comeback attempt at 32-28 before Willy Frownfelter’s two free throws seemed to put the game back under the Demons’ control after they’d led by as many as 11 in the second half.
But D.J. Wells made a layup to close the gap to four points, and Durango threw the subsequent inbounds pass out of bounds for the turnover.
No need to panic, yet.
Wells pulled his layup trick again, this time drawing a foul, too, for the extra free throw to cut Durango’s lead to one with less than 15 seconds to play.
Another Durango inbounds pass; another turnover.
“We just couldn’t seem to get the ball in,” said guard Ty Elliott, son of Ahne and Russ Elliott.
Then, who else but the 6-7 Wells in the paint?
But Wells barrelled into the Demons’ defenders for a charge instead of burying into the basket, and the Demons got inbounds attempt No. 3: one more shot for one actual possession with a win and a share of the SWL title.
“That’s all we needed was that possession,” Batiste said.
They didn’t get it. From the baseline to the sideline, out of bounds, again.
“I’ll give them credit; they got after it,” DHS post Nick Hamlin, son of Thomas and Victoria Hamlin, said of Grand Junction’s sticky final-seconds defense. “But when it comes down to it, it was our fault. We weren’t all five going like we were the rest of the game, and that’s the moment you need all five guys.”
The Tigers only needed two.
With 2.8 seconds remaining, Grand Junction’s Greg Eccher saw Zach Kiel break open underneath the basket.
“I knew Zach could jump, and I just threw it,” Eccher said. “Instinct, I guess.”
The crowd had just enough time to hear the “thunk” of the backboard and the “swoosh” of the net before the “braaaa” of the buzzer.
A lesson on Inbounds 101.
“I had a (heck) of a pass, and I knew what I had to do,” Kiel said.
Up to that point, the Demons had taken the Tigers out of their typical game plan with the staunch defense that’s been Durango’s best weapon all season long.
At times, it unbalanced Grand Junction’s robust offense and left them taking poorly selected shots.
Wells, who had a double-double when the Tigers routed Durango 57-38 in Grand Junction in January, edged into double-digit scoring with 10 to lead his team but was held in check most of the game. He scored all of his points in the second half.
“That’s our staple, is our defense,” Batiste said. “We play hard on defense.”
Durango answered by finding gaps down low, using Hamlin and Trent Andrews to go up hard in the paint. Hamlin finished with 12 points and Andrews with six to lead Durango to then a 19-11 gap at halftime.
When Durango’s inside-out attack kept working to start the second half, the Demons rolled into a double-digit lead before heading into the fourth quarter up 29-21.
When it didn’t, Durango relied on Elliott (seven points) and Frownfelter (six points) to hit shots from the elbows, which dropped just frequently enough to keep a lead until the final seconds.
“We left the door open for them,” Batiste said.
Although it has two games remaining, Grand Junction locked up the SWL title with the win and a 7-1 record.
Class 4A DHS (14-5, 7-3 SWL) will head to the 4A Western Slope district tournament likely as the No. 1 seed. (Grand Junction is Class 5A.) The tournament, which will take place next weekend in Grand Junction, will determine seeding for the state tournament. Game times have yet to be determined.